Why I’m at Holland-Mark

by Holland-Mark | September 16, 2009

Holland-Mark IconToday I became a principal of the new Holland-Mark, a Boston agency already partway risen – phoenix like – from the ashes of a storied forebear. The few people I’ve shared this decision with have pretty much all asked the same question: Why go back to an agency?

First off, for those of you who don’t know me from Adam, my story is here. Nice to meet you, welcome.

For those who know me from my blog, twitter, facebook, you know I’ve been thinking hard about the intersection of branding and social media for a long time now, at least in Internet years. Here’s what I’ve concluded, as of the Fall, 2009.

1. The intersection of branding and social media is emotional connection.

You know what drives social media participation? Human beings… trying to get through the day and not screw up, needing to fill something empty inside with the affirmation that only comes from a connection to another human being, and all too often settling for a Triple Whopper instead. That’s what social media is all about, folks. What we used to do over cocktails at 5 we now need to do in 140-character snippets, stuffed into the cracks of our daily to-do lists. It may be sad, it may give you hope for the future of mankind, but either way, it ain’t going away anytime soon.

Brands aren’t all that different, really. And it’s hard to imagine a medium better suited to building brand connections than the one defined by its ability to create human ones.

2. It’s going to be big.

See above. Not “wow” big, “holy shit” big. Others have covered this, I’ll spare you the superlative prognostications beyond that. But really freaking big.

3. The echo is now deafening.

I started blogging to learn from the smart kids, and hope I brought something to the party that benefited them as well. That’s the nature of the socialverse… in the end you get out of it just a bit more than you put in, and for me over the past few years I dare say that’s been a lot. The problem now is that the people who are getting and giving the most seem to be the Same Old People, with the inevitable result that the quality of what’s being given and gotten has declined. “Quality” is imprecise, actually, because some of these folks are very good… it’s more a decline in the fidelity of that content, the degree to which it represents the day-to-day reality of the unconverted majority.

4. The world outside is still quiet.

What is that reality? Most people don’t know diddly squat about Twitter. They use facebook, but fear admitting they just don’t get it. They can’t figure out how to get the pictures out of their camera and out to Aunt Gert, let alone what the frak “FriendFeed” is. And those are the people trying to use this stuff in their regular life. The people who’ve had a gun to their heads to apply it in service to a brand – yet another concept the vast majority of normal people are unable to wrap their heads around – well, these people are despondent. They are terrified of Twitter. Just a bit less, in fact, than they are terrified of becoming that guy who used to work here who smelled like salami and couldn’t create his own PowerPoint decks.

5. The cadre of big thinkers who started this revolution will not lead the nation it creates.

All of which leads me to a bittersweet truth. As the gap between the thinkers of thoughts and the doers of deeds rises, it is not the latter who will be left behind. It is the former who will lose themselves in the desert.

It’s time for me to wrestle, full-time, with the question of how to make money with this stuff in the real world. For a while I thought there might be a technology play out there to do it, but I’m afraid the bleeding edge of product-dom isn’t much more grounded in reality than the hairy-edge of blog-dom.

I came to Holland-Mark to help people I respect figure out how to use social media to make more money. It’s not curing cancer, I know, but it’s something I really enjoy, and something I’m pretty good at.

That’s why I decided to return to the agency business, after 15 years of building businesses that sell to agencies. For me it’s about solving the puzzle, I guess, about wanting to be the guy who cracks this thing wide open.

For the few of you who really know me, this probably makes more sense. In a way building an agency brings together the two halves of my career for the first time – the agency part, and the building businesses part.

To be honest, through the bleary-eyed new Web presence launch-day fog, it feels like I’ve come home.